CASPER, Wyo. – An abortion clinic set to open next month in conservative Wyoming was damaged in a fire early Wednesday that police believe was deliberately set — possibly by someone seen running away from the building carrying what appeared to be a gas can and a bag.
The blaze damaged the inside of the building under renovation to house the clinic in Casper, the second-biggest city in a state where opposition to abortion is widespread.
The clinic, which also planned to provide other health care services for women, had been set to open in June as only the second place in the state to offer abortions. Wyoming’s current lone location for women to get abortions is at a hospital in Jackson, 281 miles (452 kilometers) away.
A person who called authorities before dawn saw someone running from the building with what appeared to be a gas can and a black bag, police said in a Facebook post. Investigators were reviewing video footage from the area in hopes of identifying the suspect or generating a suspect description, police said. No injuries were reported.
Julie Burkhart, the clinic’s director, said clinic organizers had been receiving harassing emails and telephone messages. The building had video cameras that were functioning, and police were given access to them, she said.
“Whether you’re against abortion or support abortion rights, you’re not going to make abortion go away,” said Burkhart, a former associate of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider who was shot and killed in a Wichita, Kansas, church in 2009.
Protests have been held this spring by abortion opponents at the future clinic site, and signs opposing abortion were visible Wednesday in a window of an apartment next door to the building.
Wyoming is one of 13 U.S. states with a so-called trigger law that would immediately outlaw abortion if the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized it nationwide is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. A leaked draft of a ruling suggests that will happen soon.
Police temporarily closed off the street where the small building is located as officers investigated. Several of the building's windows were broken, and smoke damage was visible around one shattered window.